Here, we are going to look at a very common question which usually comes up at the start of a GBC interview. Of course, the answer to questions about Japanese cultural experiences is a very subjective one. I'm sure all of you will have his or her own answer. A lot of students I have talked to have chosen the place we are going to talk about today in answer to this question:
What cultural experience would you recommend to a new visitor to Japan?
Well, Japan may be a relatively small nation, but almost everywhere has its own individual character, and of course, Japan has a long history and a very rich culture, so there are many experiences that a visitor really should soak up. One of the best places to visit is Kyoto, because the city has many traditional temples and shrines, some up to 800 years old. In fact, the city was once the capital of Japan, about a millennium ago, so the city is steeped in history. It is also a centre for the geiko or geisha traditional culture. When you visit a traditional restaurant in Kyoto, you can see women dressed in traditional costumes, called geiko, dancing for the customers. Kyoto is also famous for its delicious food, which uses very little meat and a lot of vegetables, so it is very healthy. On the same topic, the traditional sweets of the area are really worth trying as the way they are prepared is like a work of art. If you could only visit one place in Japan, I’d have no hesitation in recommending that you go to Kyoto.
I have to stress that this answer is very closely based on a real answer that one of my students gave me.
What I like best about the answer is that it really makes me want to go to see Kyoto! It contains interesting facts about the city, so there is good evidence for the claim that it is one of the best places to experience Japanese culture. However, apart from that, a strong personal emotion is expressed in the answer, as if it was given by a person who is passionate about the subject. There is a risk with a question like this that you can simply offer a list of attractions like a tourist guide book, but this answer goes far beyond that. It is fascinating in the way that it almost paints a picture in the mind of the listener. Where's my ticket to Kyoto?!
When it comes to vocabulary, the language used shows some degree of sophistication:
soak up—absorb (using phrasal verbs like this shows a good knowledge of natural English)
steeped in—completely surrounded by (a very good phrase to use in this context)
really worth trying—(a simple phrase but many students often make the mistake of saying "worth to try", so this shows a good grasp of grammar)
like a work of art—(a simple phrase again, but a very effective simile*)
*simile - an expression comparing one thing with another, always including the words "as" or "like"
e.g. She walks in beauty like the night... (from the poem She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron - https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43844)